WARNING! THE FOLLOWING REVIEW IS LOADED WITH SPOILERS!
Ever since I first saw the original DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), I’ve fantasized about being a survivor in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by flesh-eating zombies. Of course, I imagined that the zombies were of the slow walking variety and that my friends and I could easily run around them to escape. We would have long discussions about where we could go to hold ‘em off, who we would want with us, what kind of weapons we could get, how we would pass the time when not killing zombies, etc. The idea of a zombie holocaust was not even a frightening thought to us. We loved zombie movies so much, we wanted it to happen. The idea of living in a world with no rules, where you can take any material possession you ever wanted for your own and the one who can kill the most zombies is the highest regarded among his peers, is where I felt I belonged. And on some days, I still do.
Maybe that’s why I loved ZOMBIELAND so much. Never has a zombie infestation been so goddamned entertaining! The film begins with a fantastic opening credits sequence that shows the world falling apart in a slow motion montage that is set to Metallica’s FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS. We then meet our two main protagonists, Columbus (JESSE EISENBURG) and Tallahassee (WOODY HARRELSON). Both are survivors of a massive zombie outbreak that was started by a contaminated hamburger. Like two lone gunslingers meeting in the wild west, they grudgingly decide to join up for awhile and help each other find what they are looking for. You see, there is a whole set of rules to surviving Zombieland and the most important one is not to trust ANYONE. Columbus wants to locate his family and Tallahassee just wants to get his hands on the last Twinkie left in the world, before it reaches its expiration date. In their travels they also meet up with two young sisters, Wichita (EMMA STONE) and Little Rock (ABIGAIL BRESLIN), whom both want to spend a day at the only zombie-free zone in the country, an amusement park called Pacific Playland. After an uneasy first encounter, the four join up and head to California for the adventure of their lives. Along the way, they kill a lot of zombies and learn to trust one another.
I really loved this movie! When I saw the ZOMBIELAND presentation at the previous COMIC-CON, I thought the footage they showed was good, but I remembered thinking that this film has got to be very funny in order to work. After all, SHAUN OF THE DEAD is a riot and the year has already given us the very entertaining Norwegian nazi-zombie comedy DEAD SNOW, so if ZOMBIELAND is gonna have any kind of a chance, it needs to be just as funny as they were. It is! And it does it while being totally original in a genre that is completely over-saturated. This can be attributed to a very well written script by RHETT REESE and PAUL WERNICK, excellent direction from RUBEN FLEISCHER and a fantastic cast led by WOODY HARRELSON, who creates an instantly iconic performance in the character of Tallahassee. He’s a badass zombie killer who’s tough facade hides a tragic pain from the past and WOODY plays it to perfection. There is also one of the greatest celebrity cameos I’ve ever seen before by BILL “FUCKING” MURRAY that comes out of nowhere and practically steals the whole goddamned movie! It is HILARIOUS!!
After the preview screening I saw, there was a Q and A with the two screenwriters responsible for ZOMBIELAND, RHETT REESE and PAUL WERNICK. They are both veterans of reality television and originally wrote ZOMBIELAND as a pilot that CBS almost filmed. After no luck as a T.V. show, they expanded the pilot into a full movie script and thank GOD for that! They said it was a great experience making the film and their script was never altered at all, except when they had to keep rewriting the celebrity cameo bit. Many stars were offered the spot before BILL MURRAY, including JEAN CLAUDE VAN DAMME, JOE PESCI, MARK HAMILL, MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY, SYLVESTER STALLONE, PATRICK SWAYZE, and THE ROCK. For one reason or another they couldn’t do it, but thankfully WOODY HARRELSON had BILL MURRAY’S number in his cell phone and after one call (and them faxing the script to MURRAY via a Kinkos in Manhattan that the writers joked was his production office) he agreed to step in and create comic magic the only way he can. Also, the movie was shot in Georgia for under 25 million dollars and if it does well, everyone involved wants to make a sequel!! I’m sure it will make a big profit and I’ll be looking forward to spending some more time in ZOMBIELAND in the future!